It Seems to Heywood Broun
Baseball is deservedly known as our national sport, for in the World Series just ended in triumph for the Athletics it was evident that the games contained most of the characteristic phases of American life. The factors which went into the final decision were shrewdness, skill, sentimentality, and downright luck. Politics, industry, and the arts are made up of these selfsame elements.
Perhaps luck should not have been placed last in the list. On the whole the business of master minding was jolted. In this scientific age we are inclined to find the hidden hand of the efficiency even in the most unlikely places. Indeed, baseball was glorified as the acme of precision long before the magazine writers began to proclaim that Henry Ford was our equivalent for Goethe and Thomas Edison a greater public benefactor than Spinoza. It was Hugh Fullerton who began, many seasons ago, to act the role of baseball’s Roger Babson. Not content with the comparatively easy task of picking a winner in the annual sporting classic, Mr. Fullerton undertook to tell in advance the score of each game. By some mysterious system of calculation each individual player had an index number, and by the simple process of adding the digits it was no trouble to foretell the winner.
Of course, the guesses generally did not come out precisely, but if the prophecy was even close we all sat back convinced that baseball was an exact science rather than a game. In the beginning of the series just concluded, the efficiency men had reason to chortle. Connie Mack began with an aged and supposedly ailing pitcher and Howard Ehmke struck out thirteen Cubs for a new world-series record and brought in a decisive victory. In the regular season Ehmke had pitched only two full games, and shortly before the pennant was won by the Athletics he was publicly sent home in disgrace as a player who had failed to keep himself in condition.
This was master minding with a vengeance, for it was pointed out that Mack had made this surprising selection because Ehmke had a peculiar underhand delivery which would be difficult to hit in the Chicago park with the background of moving rooters in the center-field stand. Ehmke’s motion was designed to make the ball come up to the plate as if it were merely another bobbing head in the distant bleachers. Indeed, the story was that Mack’s happy thought was based upon guile extending over weeks not days. Rumor has it that Ehmke was never really in disgrace. He was left home not because of failure to obey the rules of training but as a scout to spy upon Chicago batters.
But after such a promising beginning chance had its day and upset the predictions of those who thought of baseball as a combination of organic chemistry, dynamics, and the psychology of Dr. Sigmund Freud. After all, the critical fourth game, in which the Athletics made their amazing ten-run rally, depended upon the incalculable factor that the sun shone full into the eyes of Hack Wilson as he was about the make an easy catch. A sure putout became a home run and a lead of eight runs was swept aside.
Now, not even the most idolatrous worshipers of the acumen of Connie Mack could contend that this was other than an act of God. Since Joshua of old there is no record in history of the most inspired leader moving the sun about in a manner to suit his own purpose. Again, in the thrilling last game it can hardly be said that the issue turned solely upon strategy. “Get up and hit a home run,” has never been a part of the usable technique of any manager. Mule Haas should receive all proper credit for his mighty blow which tied the score but in any home run there must be some element of good fortune as well as hefty shoulders.
Personally I rejoiced in this vital drive. Until the last two games the mastery of the pitchers had been somewhat depressing. Though crowds are likely to cheer mightily for strikeouts there is more justification in their jubilation over base-hits and particularly the long ones. The pitcher inevitably stands as a symbol of frustration. He is the nay sayer in a world of lofty human aspirations. The curve ball which swoops across the corner fooling the batter and sending him back to the bench in humiliation is a reflection of the Einsteinian philosophy that we live within a circumscribed cosmos. I admit that my conception of the great mathematician’s theories is dim, but I have a feeling that he would cramp us in and cut off some of the trillion acres which we like to imagine extending endlessly beyond the Milky Way. At any rate, I do know that whenever a player hits the ball out of the park I have a sense of elation. I feel as if I had done it. To me every wall or fence is palpably an inhibition. Beyond the bleacher roof lies Italy, if one may be permitted to use that currently distressful country as a metaphor for gaiety and wish-fulfilment.
Nor is it inept to drag in many of the phrases of the Freudians. Increasingly it becomes evident that managing a ball club is a psychiatrist’s job. In a short series the mental attitude of the combatants is everything. This is the reason why the winning of the first game is almost always decisive. The team which gets the edge plays with more fierceness and confidence. While I have small faith in the predictions of Fullerton and the other experts I would willingly wager another year upon the team which had the most helpful dreams before the games began. Very possibly a shrewd analyst might have known in advance that the great Rogers Hornsby would strike out eight times in the series and prove himself a complete bust under fire. In bed, I have no doubt he tossed in nightmares where he strove for some prize which was elusive.
But perhaps the most startling reversal of tradition came in the case of Lefty Grove. He shattered the cruel slanders which have always followed lefthanders. It has been said since baseball first began that southpaws were unreliable, wild, and not to be trusted in a pinch. Yet when danger beckoned thickest it was always Grove who stood towering on the mound whipping over strikes against the luckless Chicago batters. He at least did yeoman service for the philosophy of efficiency, for when he sent the ball across the plate at lightning speed he exemplified the truth of the scientific formula, “You cannot hit what you cannot see.”